…and it’s all in a very good cause! Mandy is a lovely, generous person whose small business is an important part of Ross-on-Wye life. There’s some fantastic local baking talent around here, so why not join in this local charity baking competition? I know not everyone can cook, but we can all turn up and cheer (or act as tasters).
This Charlotte Royale pic is from the BBC Food website, by the way, although I have made it in real life. Covered in a thin layer of white fondant icing, it makes a great Christmas cake for DD the archaeologist—”Silbury Hill in Winter”!
…at the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s 2018 Conference? Held at Leeds Trinity University over the weekend of 13th-16th of July, this is a perfect excuse to meet up with like-minded writers.
I’m a poor traveller, easily confused and frequently lost. Luckily the chairman of the local chapter of the RNA came to my rescue. She met me at Leeds station, and we travelled to the university together. Knowing that I was certain to get to the venue (and back to my homeward train after the conference) was a huge weight off my mind. I could sit back and relax.
The Committee and helpers of the RNA do a fantastic job each year, putting together a programme of talks, panels and entertainments that provide something for everyone. The only problem is, there are often two sessions I’d like to attend which are on at the same time. Lots of note-swapping goes on so it’s easy to catch up on handouts, but I really missed out on one session. I thought From Baby-Wipes to Burlesque sounded like a ho-hum talk about a housewife branching out into erotic writing. I left my friend to nod off in that session, while I went off to listen to rags-to-riches self-publishing story.
That was a BIG mistake! Full of Sunday lunch and in a warm, windowless room, I was the one in danger of nodding off while listening to a cosy talk. In contrast, the Baby-Wipes to Burlesque session turned out to be practical, rather than theory! My friend and the other delegates tumbled out pink and giggling after learning how to dance alluringly. Balloons were involved. And glitter. If that wasn’t enough fun for a Sunday afternoon, they had a dressing up box, full of silk scarves and spangly things. I was so disappointed, I tried to get the happy burlesquers to teach me how to floss. I was so bad at it, flossing is something I’ll only do in the privacy of my bathroom from now on…
I can’t believe that I’ve been home from the annual Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Conference for almost a week. Six days of unpacking, clothes washing, lugging soapy bathwater out to spray the runner beans, catching up with emails—oh yes, and that little thing called work!—mean I’m all behind. I’ve got three days full of appointments next week, and I’m expecting the next set of proofs for Struggle and Suffrage any day.
Right now I’m playing a waiting game with the short story I’ve written for the Costa Short Story Award. I’ve finished the first draft, and put it away to mature for a few days before I attack the re-writes. While that is simmering at the back of my mind, I’m working on the follow up to Love Lies Bleeding. It’s got the working title of River Girl, and here’s the opening:
In three hours’ time, I’ll be with Sophia and studying the menu in Purslane.
A Sarah Jarosz soundtrack was DI Josh Miller’s only company as he followed diversion signs along the Ripple valley. He’d shrugged off freezing rain on the way to testify in court earlier, only to watch a second-rate defence brief stare down a novice prosecuting counsel. That had made leaning into sleet on his way back to the office harder to take. Gloucestershire could throw bad weather in your face whichever way you were walking. Josh hadn’t experienced that trick since he’d prowled the canyons of Canary Wharf, but the prospect of dinner with Sophia had insulated him all afternoon. Once she was qualified, she’d show them all at Crown Court how it was done.
At last he was on his way home. The orange lights of a gritting lorry flickered through the dusk. Josh eased off the Skoda’s accelerator. He wasn’t mad enough to overtake in these conditions. Staying well back as the t-junction with the Brackenridge Road drew nearer, he saw the gritter swing out, straight across a motorcyclist. There wasn’t time to wince. In the confusion of horns and brakes, a stone thrown up from the newly-resurfaced road shattered Josh’s windscreen.
In a house high above the road, Sally woke. She didn’t bother opening her eyes.
There’s no point.
The bedroom would be as black as her heart, her thoughts and her future.The Prospect was a long way from any streetlight, but William insisted on blackout curtains in all the upstairs rooms. He said they made it easier for him to sleep.
William said a lot of things, when he wasn’t working.
He had been away for one whole day.
A cortege of thoughts passed through the snore-free silence while she waited for sleep to return.
She uncurled her lower leg, pushing it experimentally down between the cotton sheet and the duvet. Relaxing felt wrong, to begin with. After a minute or two, she extended her other leg.
She opened her eyes, searching the dark. Nothing. Her mobile phone was only inches away on the bedside table. She’d know ifWilliam was trying to contact her.
He’d packed a few things and moved into the Brackenridge Travelodge, conveniently close to his CEO’s home. With snow forecast, William was in the perfect place to cadge a lift into work.
Shrewd, he called it. Very shrewd.
Commuting with William. Why could she remember doing that, when so much of her life since she stopped work at Atkinson Burrell blurred and seeped out of her mind like watercolours?
She grabbed her phone. William was bound to know…
…but then she would have to tell him Consuelo didn’t come back after going to the supermarket yesterday. If William thought lightning was going to strike twice, he would drive straight home to make sure she had company.
She dropped the phone, then heard his voice inside her head.
I’m good like that.
Yes. He was. Everybody said so, so it must be true.
She reached for the phone again.
Everybody says so, so it must be true.
She rolled onto her back. Then she eased her way into the middle of the emperor-sized bed.
Nothing bad happened.
Consuelo knew where the spare back door key was hidden. She could let herself in.
But what if she never came back—
never came back never came back never came back…I never came back for Jake and Mia. So they went looking for me, and….
Sally curled into a foetal ball again.
She closed her eyes.
But she didn’t sleep.
Josh snapped on his warning lights, shut the car’s vents and punched a big enough hole in the crazed glass to give him a view across the junction. The other vehicles were disappearing into the dusk. His car was the only casualty of the near-miss. Squinting into the icy breeze, he pulled over and parked.
The temperature inside the car dropped like sterling in a crash. Josh tried his phone. No signal. He got out. The winter air was full of knives.
The little Ripple was a tributary of the Wye, cutting through steep Forest rock to join the bigger river here, near the great horseshoe bend of Symond’s Yat. For most of the year, this was the perfect place for water sports. Uninterrupted by calls or texts it would seem, Josh thought as he paced about, searching for a better signal.
At the deserted canoe slipway, he found one. Before he could dig out his breakdown membership card, a distant gunshot echoed along the valley. The sound came from the direction of the Kneller’s smallholding, on the other side of the Wye. Noisy rooks catapulted into the sunset. It was legal for farmers to shoot foxes and crows, especially so close to lambing. They had to protect their stock, but the noise sharpened his senses. An owl quavered. He looked up. An apparition was moving through the trees scratched against the slope ahead.
It was a woman. She was moving toward the water.
Why she was drifting about this Godforsaken place, looking like Kate Bush on YouTube was anybody’s guess.
Josh went to find out…
There’s a lot of work to be done on River Girl yet (not least, discovering how to disable double line spacing in WordPress!). That means my mind is full of characters and twists when I should be concentrating on doing the watering. I managed to tip half a can of water over myself last night. At any other time, that would have been an unpleasant shock. During the long hot summer of ’18, it was quite a relief!
Back in February, I wrote about the apricot tree flowering in my greenhouse. That was before winter came back to bite us, in the form of The Beast From The East. At a time when spring should have been springing, we ended up with several feet of snow, and endless days with the thermometer registering well below freezing. Despite my greenhouse heater going full pelt and plenty of insulation, the later flushes of apricot flowers were nipped by the cold. A lot of them shrivelled before opening. Some of the earliest fruitlets were killed too, so instead of a tree covered in fruit, we were left with only a few dozen surviving apricots.
That turned out to be a blessing in disguise. If every flower had turned into a fruit, we’d have had hundreds of apricots, none of them any bigger than grapes. The stone inside each one would have taken up a lot of room, so there wouldn’t have been much in the way of juicy fruit.
The answer would have been for me to thin out the fruit by picking them off while they were still tiny. The idea is to leave about one fruit for every four inches of branch. I can’t bear to be ruthless, so we would have ended up with measly apricots.
Luckily, nature did the job of thinning the fruit out for me this year. We didn’t have so many fruit, but each one was the size of a peach! The seven in the photo at the top of this blog weigh nearly a kilogram (that’s 2.2lb in old money).
I’d be happy to sit in the shade and eat them fresh form the tree, but OH loves fruit crumble and custard. Here’s my recipe, which is really quick and easy. It includes jumbo oats and Demerara sugar which means the topping stays crunchy, in lovely contrast to the cooked fruit beneath.
700g (1.5lb) fresh apricots, sliced
A small amount of caster sugar
100g (4oz) flour
75g (3oz) butter
50g (2oz) Demerara sugar
75g (3oz) jumbo oats
Heat the oven to 180c (160 Fan) Gas Mark 4
Put the sliced apricots in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over a little sugar, and add a couple of tablespoons of water.
In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and oats. Spread this mixture over the apricots.
Bake in the pre-heated oven for between 35-40 minutes, or until the fruit is cooked. This is delicious whether you serve it hot or cold, with custard or cream.
Of course you could always make this with tinned apricots—just use the juice instead of water, and cook until the crumble is browned and crunchy.
Writers vary in the amount of planning they do before starting to write. Some use software systems such as Snowflake or Scrivener to guide them. Others plunge straight in. Both systems have their good and bad points, so it comes down to personal preferences.
When you’re first grabbed by an idea, plan as much or as little as you like but don’t get bogged down in too much detail when it comes to working on your first draft. Fiddling with tiny details makes the challenge of writing a whole book seem much harder than it actually is.
As long as you’ve done your groundwork on characters and conflicts, try charging straight through your story, writing only the dialogue. Scribble away as fast as you can, getting down on paper or screen all the juiciest exchanges you’ve been dreaming up. Start the beginning, and work right through to the end. You’re not looking to write the whole 60,000 words or whatever at this stage. You’ll probably change a million things about your manuscript before you’re satisfied with your final draft, but right now you’re concentrating on the basics.
What you want at this stage is a sure-fire way to boost your writerly self-esteem. This first, dirty draft will capture all the edge of the seat stuff – the interplay of character and conflicts that first attracted you to your idea.
Once you’ve got the basic scaffolding of your story in place, you can go back at your leisure and create a second, cleaner draft. Refine your work with more description, lots of character development and some crackling conflict. Polish your story until it’s a perfect read!